Fifth Regime Records recording artists Laika (named after one of the first animals launched into space, the Soviet Cosmonaut dog Laika) deliver their newest release Somnia, and for fans of metal played hard and loud with interesting progressive elements woven in, it’s the album for you. Hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, where it’s colder than it is in Seattle, where throngs of kids gathered in basements to make music in the early 90s and launched a new rock revolution, the guys in Laika, according to Kevin Stuart-Panko give credence to the assertion that “there is more than a little truth to whole “Winterpeg” thing and everyone staying inside and rock and rolling because it’s fifty below.”
Yeah, rockers in Winnipeg must spend a lot of time in their basements all winter practicing because for a new-ish band with only a handful of previous releases, Laika are surprisingly tight and melodic sonically (without skimping on the metal crunch), and they will only get better with time. Some of the tracks here don’t quite come together as I’m sure the band envisioned, but there are plenty more that do. Stand out track “The Immortal” finds the band most effectively meshing together and delivering an ear catching straight up metal tune. The solos in “The Immortal” will satisfy any metal guitar fan. “Caligae A Galea” (translated as “Boot to the Head” maybe?), displays another side of this rather enigmatic metal band with it’s open spaces and atmospherics. There’s plenty of singer Jordan Dorge’s growl and hollar (which is not unlike a young Max Calevera as one would think) to ground the song, even when the guitars launch into an interstellar warp. It’s one of the most interesting songs on the album which betrays the band’s bent toward alt or progressive metal while remaining true to the thundering heaviness required these days to be considered METAL worthy. “Predictions (Tide Bearer)” provides more of the same, but the time signatures seem to slip out of time, creating a bit of a nauseating sonic experience. As I alluded to earlier, the band aren’t complete masters of the form yet. Take away the few small spaces where the song gets away from them, and “Predictions (Tide Bearer)” is full of amazing promise. The (space)ship is righted with the album’s final track “Invaders” which returns to straight up, head pummelling, heavy metal of the type that one envisions crashing from the sky during the Cold War Space Race.
What is most interesting about Laika, again as I also alluded to above, is their progressive metal bent. Piano and synths are present throughout the album. They are never the basis for any song (except the album’s opener-discussed below), as the band steadfastly rely upon their guitars, bass, and drums, but they are present enough to be a defining aspect of Laika’s sound, and the band is a better band for it. Opening instrumental track, the Nox Arcana-like “The Restless Mind” sets the stage for the album artistically by hitting you with something unexpected, which just builds up the anticipation. “The Restless Mind” is Laika’s version of the Smashing Pumpkin’s opening piano track “Melon Collie and The Infinite Sadness” off of the album of the same name. The very next track “Escalation of Terror” is perfectly placed as, while it is a heavy track, it is not as bone crunchingly heavy as “The Immortal” or “Invaders.” It ramps up the album smartly instead of pummelling you from the get go. This is what I like most about Laika, there is a solid artistic thought process going on here.
Album title track “Somnia” starts out with what could be described as a doom metal type riff that quickly builds into (once again) some good ole’ straightforward metal riffing. It’s a great track and does encapsulate a solid sampling of the album’s overall sound, hence the honor of being the album’s title track. It also has one of the best melodic breaks on the entire album. “Fidelity” the next immediate track is a bit of a let down after the strength of the preceding track. It’s pretty much cookie cutter metal loaded with an overabundance of excessive drumming. It’s worth the listen pretty much only because of the nice break in the middle. The long (5 minute 35 second) “Dream of Nothing” is the album’s most interesting, if not best, track. The instrumental track, that makes use of piano, more Nox Arcana like synths, as well as driving guitar and drum, is so interesting because it really shows that the guys in Laika do have a love of progressive metal and are interested in doing more than just the run of the mill metal that legions of bands have aped off of originator bands like Cannibal Corpse and Slayer. Again, there’s musical and artistic talent and vision at work here. It’s what keeps me interested.
Laika have a bright future. I’m quite anxious to see where their next album takes them. If they can stay true to “the metal” while effectively embracing and interweaving “the progressive” through their heavier tracks, this band is going to be huge.